In Santana, 150 miles from the 22-mile-wide bar across the Amazon River entrance, our Brazilian ship agent brought on board 11 clearing officials and promised the customs gang later. Remembering Sir Peter Blake’s tragic murder here, Whale Song’s owner hired two armed bodyguards, soldiers on leave. We loved these two Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alikes who helped with dock lines and cooking and provided us with a restful night’s sleep. Our river pilot, Judas Tadeu Barbosa Lima, steered up and down the river - charts cannot keep up with the changing shoals, and that September the water was falling at two feet per week.
Water buffalo grazed on vast lowlands of the river, whose waters carried timber barges and ferry boats filled to the gunwales with people. Although we passed schools of pink boto dolphins and multitudes of birds winged overhead, humans were the main species to watch. On the night of the Sao Francisco fiesta in the town of Monte Alegre, Piauí, 5,000 candles floated by Whale Song. On most tributaries small shipyards on slanting mud banks produced wooden vessels. Huts on stilts fronted the crumbling Fordlandia, Henry Ford’s failed attempt to grow rubber trees on Rio Tapajos. Only in the side creeks did we find birds - green and red parrots, toucans, raptors and kingfishers large and small. The tree branches were heavy with six-foot-long oropendola nests.
On the way downriver, in the boardwalk town of São Sebastião da Boa Vista, we pushed through market day traffic. The meat stalls sold butchered cows - heads, hoofs and entrails included. In the next row, hand presses squeezed palm fruit into the celebrated açai juice. The old Portuguese city of Belém would have been worth a trip by itself. With the sun just waking up, fishing boats jostled into the Ver-o-Peso market basin. From the estuary waters came the fish of the region: sarda, dourado, filhote, the patterned tucunaré and the giant catfish pirarucu. Across the basin, boats unloaded black-tusked boars that fought ferociously. Other boats groaned under mountains of green coconuts, bulging bags of charcoal and stacks of yucca leaves. Up a street the medicinal stalls sold snakeskins and boto dolphins’ jaws and eyes.
Outside in the Atlantic, the October southeasterly trades blew hard. Plunging into some impressive seas changed our focus back to the Southern Ocean. At each new port we added to our defenses. In Fortaleza in Brazil, the heavy spare propellers migrated from the bow to the boat deck and onto a base made by the welders at the Inace Shipyard. A shipment of Lexan storm covers for the salon windows caught up with us in Salvador, Bahia, a city of baroque churches dripping gold and the blood of suffering saints and slaves, the vast cruising ground of bays and rivers, and saveiros under gigantic lateen sails.